Kamp has mixed feelings about the situation. On the one hand the Bucky Bus provided an important community service, but then again there were the costs associated with it, including overtime salaries to provide that service.
?I do think there was some merit to the argument that the private companies weren?t getting federal funding to do that work. And so, I felt that when the rule came out just like anything you follow the rules, you do what?s legally required,? Kamp says.
More than 50 private charter companies signed up on the FTA Web site to offer their services for charter work in the area. Kamp says this showed him there were definitely contractors who could do the work.
?And indeed, for every one of the charter work opportunities, there?s been a company to do it. And so I felt that those new rules came into effect. We were covering our costs. We were not making a profit,? Kamp says.
Kamp feels that since Metro wasn?t losing money by the loss of the service, they now had the opportunity to use the resources they had once dedicated to services like the Bucky Bus and use those resources for regular service, which helped alleviate some tight budget constraints.
Funding is a critical issue for all transit agencies, and Madison Metro Transit is no different. The agency has an approved budget for 2008, but that budget hinged on a 50-cent fare increase. Unfortunately, that fare increase isn?t approved ? yet.
?The Transit and Parking Commission (Metro?s governing board) decided to go halfway and rather than raise the fare from $1.50 to $2, to raise it to $1.75,? says Kamp.
?That did leave a portion of our budget imbalanced and so the reasoning of those that are appealing this is that Metro needs to have a balanced budget, which we do. And so it?s still going through the process.?
Does the lack of a fare increase mean Metro Transit will be facing a budget deficit? Well, technically, yes, but Kamp is still hoping for an appeal of the commission?s decision.
?Right now if the Transit and Parking Commission?s approved version stays, we would be at a deficit of about $210,000. I?m concerned about that because we?re having another snowy winter like last year where Metro needed to spend additional money for snow removal at bus stops. And I don?t see this early in the game in January that I could absorb a $210,000 deficit. So I do think it will be helpful for the appeal process to go for it.?
Kamp says that the agency has begun looking at what a $210,000 deficit would mean for the agency, but hopes to avoid service cuts if possible. However, with the appeal process underway, he?s waiting to hear the results of that before he starts looking at cuts.
?If [the appeal goes through], then there?s no service cuts, we have an approved budget and our budget is balanced. If it leaves it at the current Transit and Parking Commission approved level of $1.75, we?d have to fill that $210,000 gap and staff would look at a way to avoid doing that with service cuts.?
One of the other points of contention for Metro Transit is its unlimited ride passes. Some have come out to say the unlimited rides gives a false sense of ridership increases, which Kamp denounces simply.
?An unlimited ride is a ride is a ride. It?s ridership.
?Unlimited ride agreements with universities and employers are a trend throughout the country. I would argue that Madison is on the leading edge of it,? Kamp says.
?So I don?t think it masks ridership. I think that our ridership that you see ? and we are very close to breaking our all-time record either this year or next year, which was set in 1982 ? I think part of that?s unlimited ride passes.?
The proposed budget actually includes accommodations for Metro Transit staff to broaden the unlimited pass agreements to small employers. Currently the program is only in service with the University of Wisconsin, the city of Madison, some other schools and a few major employers, but Kamp hopes that will change with the new budget. He notes that the agency has heard from several smaller employers (with 10 to 50 employers) about offering it to their companies as well.
?This is like the hybrid bus of tickets,? Kamp says.